While mange is something you often see in neglected dogs, this terrible skin condition doesn’t discriminate. It affects the rescues at the shelter, the strays on the street, and the pampered family member currently on your couch. Mange in dogs can lead to serious discomfort, pain, and additional health issues. It leaves dogs covered in sores, itching until they bleed, and a lot of dogs end up losing their fur. Dogs diagnosed with mange are often described as having “skin like stone” that’s thick, tough, and crusty. Whether a rescue dog desperately needs your help, or your own pampered pooch is showing signs of this common skin disease, there are steps you can take to help.
First, you have to understand exactly where mange in dogs comes from and what it is.
What is Mange?
Mange is a common skin condition that’s caused by a spider-like parasite called a mite. Mites are tiny organisms that you probably need a microscope to spot. They’re about a half millimeter long, and to the naked human eye, they look like the tiniest little dots.
Mites are small, but they do a lot of damage. They feed on their hosts, and their bites lead to uncomfortable skin reactions. There are several different kinds of mites, and they can be found in almost any environment.
For dogs, there are two different kinds of mites that cause two different types of mange.
This type of mange in dogs is caused by a mite that is a normal part of their skin. Usually, the demodex canis mite is harmless. They live in hair follicles and mind their own business. The problem comes in when a dog’s immune system isn’t strong enough to keep these little pests in check. A weakened immune system can’t stop the population of mites from getting out of control. The mites keep reproducing, and their increased numbers lead to demodectic mange. Dogs most at risk of demodectic mange include:
- Dogs suffering from an ongoing illness including cancer or diabetes
- Elderly dogs
- Stray or neglected dogs on poor diets
The one bright side of demodectic mange is that it is not contagious. It can’t spread to other dogs or humans, and some dogs with mild cases end up recovering on their own. You shouldn’t count on your dog beating demodectic mange without treatment, however. What starts as a small patch of red, scaling skin can quickly get worse. Dogs with demodectic mange can have their entire bodies covered in crusty, red, and swollen skin. They usually lose their hair and spend most of their time scratching.
The second type of mange in dogs—sarcoptic—is typically more serious and harder to treat than demodectic mange. Sarcoptic mange, also called canine scabies, is caused by a mite that likes to jump around from host to host. For this reason, sarcoptic mange is extremely contagious. The mites prefer their hosts to be canine, but they’ll also feed on human skin cells and blood.
The only way for a dog to get sarcoptic mange is through exposure. It can happen at a dog park, pet store, boarding kennel, or anywhere else where dogs come in contact with each other. Stray and rescue dogs pick it up when they live in packs, but even your pampered pet can come down with sarcoptic mange if they’re exposed.
Dogs with sarcoptic mange are usually covered in a painful-looking rash that causes dry skin and hair loss. Sometimes it looks like a thick yellow crust or open sores. It also leads to extreme itchiness and pain.
How to Diagnose Mange in Dogs
If you suspect your dog has mange, it’s important to take them to the vet. You can look out for common symptoms, but it’ll be tough to determine which type you’re dealing with. A veterinarian will take a skin sample and identify the specific mite under a microscope. Once you have a confirmed diagnosis, you can work on treatment.
Treating Mange in Dogs
An experienced veterinarian will always be your best source of information when it comes to treating mange. Treatment will depend on how advanced the skin condition is and your dog’s overall health. Mange is serious, and it can also lead to other medical issues. It leaves dogs vulnerable to yeast and bacterial infections that can lead to even more health problems. The constant itching and pain can also cause lethargy and weight loss. It’s a downhill spiral, and in worst cases, dogs die from issues related to their original skin condition. For both demodectic and sarcoptic mange, there are certain steps you need to take to help your dog.
The first thing to do is control the itching. You need to soothe your dog’s skin to stop them from scratching and making their skin worse. Aloe Vera can relieve itching, and you should also consider using an e-collar or fitted shirt to prevent your dog from getting at their skin. E-collars aren’t ideal, but the more dogs itch, the worse their skin will be. If you don’t have an e-collar, try putting a shirt on your dog and cinching it around their middle.
In many cases, vets recommend topical or oral medications to eradicate mites. These prescription-strength medications work over a period of several weeks to first kill the adult mites and then eliminate the larvae before they can reproduce. You’ll need to talk to your vet about possible side effects and if that’s the right choice for your dog.
Another effective way to treat mange is with a medicated shampoo. Choose a powerful antiseptic and antifungal shampoo or lime sulfur dip that is designed to kill microorganisms and soften skin.
There’s no doubt that mange is a serious concern.
Dogs suffer from this skin condition every day, and without treatment, they go through prolonged suffering. If you find scaly, crusty, or red patches of skin on your dog, don’t hesitate to contact your vet. If it’s mange, you want to start treatment as soon as possible.